So You Think You Want to be in PR?

I've noticed lately how many tweets and Tumblr messages I have been receiving on the topic of working in or studying public relations. I think it is great you think you have found your career path, but it also brings me concern. Public relations isn't all glitz and glamour, I think many of you do not realize this. I would say about 50% of what I have done involves research, staying on top of trends and breaking news. It isn't just working with celebrities, that's usually only in fashion and entertainment public relations which makes up a small percentage of the public relations field. Public relations also involves event planning and management, crisis communications, and usually social media planning and management. I think many of you have a narrow perception, or misconstrued perception, of what exactly public relations is and what a publicist or practitioner actually does. Really hoping that I can expand upon this to help you either realize this is exactly the way you wish to head or maybe rethink it since it isn't what you originally thought.

What Public Relations Is & Is Not!

Public relations is not marketing or advertising. Marketing focuses on getting people to purchase the product and helping sales growth. Advertising is what we are subjected to on a daily basis like commercials advertising the newest iPhone and what have you. Public relations deals with the relationships that companies foster between their industry competitors, their clients, and so forth. It focuses on the way the brand is perceived. Events are also usually under the public relations domain. Media relations, such as having press releases run in certain newspapers or having a specific bloggers review or talk about a product or service is all handled by a public relations person. 

Key Personality Traits & Talents

Public Relations is like any other field where there are certain stipulations each individual has to adhere to in order to be successful within the realm. You need to have: strong writing skills, at least mild creativity, understanding of SEO (Search Engine Optimization)/Keywords and proofreading or editing skills . These are skills that you absolutely need in order to make it as a publicist. The personality of a publicist should involve at least these three: outgoing, outspoken and driven. You cannot just be a wallflower and expect to succeed in this field, it just won't happen. 

 If you cannot write well, this is not the career path for you. I mean this literally as posting on social channels, writing up press releases and so on require strong writing skills. If you release a press release with grammatical errors or spelling errors you are making yourself and the company you represent, also an agency if you aren't in house, look less than credible. For social media and digital purposes, SEO is important because you want what you post to be visible in the appropriate space. What good is pushing out content if no one can find it? Editing and proofreading should be obvious as they tie in with the concept of strong writing skills. No one wants to be "that guy" or "that girl" who didn't edit their work properly and has spelling errors. 

What do publicists do most of the time? They communicate on behalf of their organization, company, or what have you. How can a shy person who is scared to voice their thoughts be expected to be the voice of a multi-billion dollar corporation? Well, the correct answer is that they aren't. People who can easily make conversation with those around them, no matter their rank, are the kinds of people who make exceptional publicists. You have to be willing to take risks sometimes because "doing something new" in the field could be one of the best things you'll ever do. Think about companies opening up Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, the idea had to come from someone! 

Social Media 

Yes, a good part of public relations in the current day involves social media! What I think a lot of people fail to realize is that social media in the context of business and public relations is not the same as it is for personal use. There are things like keywords and search engine optimization that go into crafting and posting messages across social platforms. The use of hash tags has to be very specific in order to ensure that content that isn't related to the company or the crafted message doesn't get pulled up when clicking on the hash tag. There is a lot of strategic planning that goes into posts when managing a company's or entity's social account. 

Did you know that a majority of company's have a social media calendar? If you didn't, now you do! Things are planned out, in almost excruciating detail! There are things that happen on the fly just because of creative ability and whatever has happened or is trending but majority of the content has been planned at least a week in advance. You need to not only be comfortable with the social platforms but understand how company's use them for their own end.  

Industry

Every industry on this planet has a publicist somewhere behind the scenes, whether or not they name this person appropriately is a different story all together. From fashion to entertainment to technology to beauty, there's always a need for a publicist. When BP, the massive oil company, had that oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a few years back you should know who was consulted almost immediately, their public relations team! Crisis management and aversion is usually placed upon the public relations practitioner's shoulders. 
Fashion and entertainment tend to have more of a fun spin to public relations since those two tend to have events like the Brits or the American Music Awards. Who doesn't want to work around celebrities? The reality is that not everyone can work or will work in these industries. You have to want to become a publicist because you love the craft, not the perks of the position! 

In House vs Agency

Working for a company and working for a firm have two different environments and experiences. Some people like the idea of working with just one animal, if you will. For example, if you work for Verizon you are only focused on Verizon's public relations strategy, problems, and so on. Some people like this, mainly because the entry level salaries tend to be higher than that of a firm. When working for a firm you deal with many "animals." You can work on over five different companies at once managing an event for one, social media for another and writing a press release for yet another! This requires being able and willing to juggle multiple brands and understanding them as well as their vision. Agencies also vary in size so a small more boutique firm will require people that are generalists, those that can do a bit of everything. Mid-size to large firms will usually have specialists, those that are the "go to" people for social media or events or whatever. This is something else you need to take into consideration. Do you want to work for just one company or work on many at the same time? 

Intern

The best way to see what you like, if you believe that public relations is the field for you, is to intern. I always suggest doing at least two before you graduate. I believe that trying an in house position as well as an agency position will allow you to see your strengths and weaknesses along with what environment you enjoy more. If you are into technology, try to intern with companies and agencies that are in that field. Every industry has public relations so find which one or ones, there can be multiple that interest you, are for you. There are several firms that touch a bit of multiple industries which might be something to take into consideration. I am very against unpaid internships. If the company or firm you are considering doesn't pay or at least offer a travel stipend, try to steer clear. A good portion of your work will be live and used, especially if you are working on social media, do not sell yourself short! Many firms and companies, no matter the size, realize the importance of paying their interns and so do offer either a travel stipend or an hourly wage. 






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